The overriding point of most plays about Marie Antoinette, including David Adjmi’s at the Curio and Laura Gunderson’s The Revolutionists at Theatre Horizon, is no matter what sparked and sputtered the French Revolution, no matter the issues of that bleak segment of French history, and no matter who emerged as a leader or contemporary, it the is French queen who is remembered by history. Danton, Marat, Robespierre, and their ilk have mostly been forgotten or had their names mostly given to poodles, while the guillotined Marie retains fame, is thought of admirably, in the way of a Kardashian but admirably, and is often a symbol of grace and glamour in turmoil.
Adjmi, abetted by Jennifer Summerfield in the title role, and Jessica DalCanton in a broad selection of parts, looks, it seems, to skewer the Marie Antoinette mythos by satirizing. Summerfield boldly and intelligently playing it straight even when Marie is not being depicted in the best light. Adjmi’s script may work, but Brenna Geffers’s production for Curio is too undisciplined a mishmash for anyone to know conclusively if that’s the case.
Geffers in given to pushing a joke or a point, to overplaying or overanimating to an extent that becomes dizzying and obscures anything but the theatrics she’s employing, Notice I say “theatrics” instead of “theater.” Geffers’s work here is more self-conscious and meant to impress than done in service of a story or its clarity. Adjmi’s work is a satire, but Geffers takes the word too seriously. Her muscular style of direction works in dramas and was especially illuminating in EgoPo’s The Hairy Ape, but in this comedy, she and her company are all over the place.
Moments and individual takes, such as DalCanton’s courtier, Liam Mulshine playing the voice of a life-size cardboard dauphin, or Rich Bradford oozing charm as a treacherous rake, have merit. Summerfirld makes the most of the material and attitude she’s given. In general, though, this production is a consistent mess that loses even the one thing it has going for it, its stabs at humor, when it becomes serious and dour, as when it depicts any revolutionary.
No wonder the French Revolution failed and led to a more potent dictator than Louis XVI could ever be, Napoleon Bonaparte, with these Jacobins who couldn’t add humanity to their cause. I don’t mind saying the French Revolution made me a conservative, of a Goldwater-Nixon stripe, because of idiotically orthodox zeal I saw in ’60s revolutionary wannabes, and the Michael B. Jordan character in Black Panther. Seeing the way Geffers had her cast portray the French citizen confirmed my convictions.
[Curio Theatre, 48th street and Baltimore Avenue] February 14-March 10, 2018; curiotheatre.org